It’s 14 December. Just 11 more sleeps till Christmas! My Christmas baking is well under way, that is, I have made an awful lot of gingerbread and shortbread this last week, to give as small gifts to friends and colleagues.
I haven’t completely settled on a menu for the day itself. In Australia it’s usually hot, but we have sometimes had a chilly spell taking everyone by surprise. I usually cover both weather situations by having the festive meats hot accompanied by lots of cold salads.
Hmmm. Dessert. What to do this year? I have 4 main Chrissie desserts. Trifle – everyone’s favourite. Ice cream bombe, great for those hot days. A tiramisu style dessert for something a little different. Or the Great Australian Dessert, pavlova! Always a winner in my experience.
I know which way I’m going this year, but you’ll have to wait a bit before the big reveal.
I thought it would be good to recap some desserts that I’ve made at Christmas over the years. Maybe you might even get some inspiration if you’re looking for the perfect end to the meal!
Here are the links to some sweet treats, in no particular order, that I have made for Christmas in the past, or that would be perfect on the big day.
I’m a sourdough evangelist. And I will preach to anyone who will listen – to which my friends will testify!
The power of natural yeast to change flour and water into a beautiful, intense flavoured loaf of bread is a wonderful thing. I began baking sourdough bread a few years ago, but this year I have embarked on a journey to develop my skills and come up with the perfect loaf. Of course, there’s no such thing, but every loaf has its value and provides a lesson in what works and what can be improved.
I make a lot of sourdough bread, and I’ve come a long way in my journey. So I thought it would helpful to write up my current sourdough process. I hope that readers of this blog will enjoy this latest account, and perhaps will be inspired to make their first – or next – sourdough loaf.
And here I should say that I have developed my sourdough skills through reading and following the procedures, advice and hands on experiences of the baking doctor James Morton. He is the high priest of sourdough, and his latest book Super Sourdough (Hardie Grant Publishing) is an instruction manual and bakers’ bible in one.
It’s also full of commonsense and incredibly helpful advice and excellent recipes. I really recommend it.
Here is the sourdough process that is producing well risen, beautiful tasting and relatively consistent loaves for me, based on the James Morton method.
An important aspect of making sourdough is the baking component. I use the cast iron pot method, of which much has been written, particularly on the internet. The principle seems to be that baking the bread inside a pot creates steam which helps the bread to rise.
A note on a sourdough starter. I’m including a method suggested by James Morton that has worked for me. My starter is incredibly active and makes my dough rise really well. There are many methods around for starters, and I don’t claim to be enough of an expert to say definitively which ones are best.
Sourdough starter Put 100g wholemeal flour and 100g fruit juice into a glass jar and mix. Leave for about 5 days or until it develops lots of bubbles. Feed with equal amounts of flour and water, at least as much flour as is already in the jar. After the first feed, you will need to discard some starter, to maintain a reasonable size starter in the jar. The starter can be used to make bread once it consistently grows in size after being fed.
If you’re not making bread everyday, and therefore using up starter, you can store the starter in the fridge and feed once a week.
Ingredients 450g strong flour 150g sourdough starter 325g tepid water 10g salt
Mix Measure the flour into a large bowl. Add the sourdough starter and the water. Don’t add the salt just yet. Mix very roughly just enough to incorporate the ingredients.
Autolyse Cover and leave for 30 minutes so the mixture can autolyse. I use a clear plastic shower cap as a cover, as it fits nicely over most sized bowls. A plastic bag is fine too.
Knead and Prove Add the salt to the mixture. Now you can choose to knead the mixture using a dough hook in an electric stand mixer, knead by hand or use the stretch and fold method, essentially a no knead way of developing gluten in the dough. If you want to knead by hand, that’s fine, but I don’t, so I won’t describe here. There is plenty of information out there about ways of kneading!
If using a mixer, mix the dough for 6 minutes on the lowest speed, then 4 minutes on the next speed up. The dough should be lovely and stretchy, and pass the windowpane test if you pull and stretch a small section – it should be translucent. Cover the bowl again and leave the dough in a warm place to prove for about 4 hours. The advantages of this method are less work and you can leave the dough alone for the 4 hours.
The stretch and fold method is great if you don’t want to knead and if you haven’t got an electric mixer. Remove the cover from the dough. You need to wet your fingers for this method, to stop your fingers sticking to the dough. Gently grab one of the edges of the dough and fold over into the middle. Repeat, turning the bowl around so you have lifted up all of the dough and folded into the middle.The dough should start to feel stretchy. Do this stretching and folding of the dough about 4 or more times, covering the bowl again after each stretch and fold. The whole stretch and fold method should be done over 4 hours.
After the first prove of 4 hours the dough should have increased in size by at least 50%.
Pre-shape Now comes the interesting part of the process for, getting the dough into a shape that can then be shaped for baking. I was very nervous of pre-shaping initially, now its my favourite part of bread making!
Carefully remove the dough from the bowl with help of a dough scraper onto an unfloured work surface. Definitely no flour needed! I use an oversized wooden board, but a bench top will work too. The dough will be stretchy, and quite delicate, so no rough treatment. Slide the scraper underneath the dough, lifting it from underneath. You will feel the scraper catch the dough as it lifts it up. I try not to remove the scraper, just move it round all of the dough in a circle. Sometimes the scraper sticks, and you need to pull it out, remove the sticky dough, and then go under again, but the more you move around the dough, the tighter the dough becomes and the less likely to stick. Do this circular movement with the scraper a few times until the dough forms a round, wobbly ball that roughly holds its shape. Leave for 20-30 minutes to let the gluten relax.
Shape I shape my sourdough loaves to fit the 2 cast iron pots I bake in. One is round, perfect for a boule shape. The other is oval, which is fine for a batard shape.
It’s important that you are super careful with the shaping. The dough is delicate and you don’t want to damage the dough you have worked so hard to develop.
For a round boule: put the pre-shaped dough onto the work surface, lightly floured. Imagine the round of dough is a clock face. Take one edge of the dough at 12 o’clock and gently pull towards you, and fold into the centre of the dough. Move the dough around to 3 o’clock and pull and fold again. Move to 6 o’clock, then 9 o’clock, pulling and folding. Do this process a few times until the dough feels tight and a little bouncy. Turn the dough over. Scoop the dough into curved hands and rock the dough backwards and forwards, until the dough feels tight and smooth.
For a batard: put the pre-shaped dough onto the work surface, lightly floured. Imagine the dough is sort of square shape. Take the two sides of the square shape that are opposite each other and gently stretch away from each other. Fold these stretched bits over each other in the centre of the dough. Turn the dough round 90 degrees and do the same with the other two sides of the square. Now that you have folded the 4 sides of the square, fold 2 of the opposing corners in the same way, and then fold the other opposing corners. Take any side of the dough and roll up like a Swiss roll. Press the seam to seal.
For either shape, carefully move the dough into a proving basket, round or batard shaped, with the smooth side of the dough on the bottom and the seam side on top.
Second Prove While you can prove your dough for 2-3 hours at room temperature, I advocate the retarded or fridge prove, and this method serves me well. Leave the dough at room temperature for an hour then place in the fridge for 8-12 hours. Doing this at night works well as it allows you to bake your bread first thing the next morning.
Score and Bake For the pot method, pre-heat your oven to really hot – 250 degrees C. Put the pot in when you begin to pre- heat, and leave for 20-30 minutes. The pot will certainly be really hot after half an hour – and perhaps this is a waste of energy – but I sometimes want to be completely sure the pot is hot, so I go the extra 10 minutes.
Turn your dough out of the proving basket onto a thin flat baking tray or peel, well dusted with semolina. The pretty side of the dough is now on top. Open the oven and carefully take the lid of the pre-heated pot off. You can then slide the shaped dough into the hot pot.
At this point you can score the dough using a lame or razor blade or sharp knife. For a boule, scoring with a cross is good, however, I sometimes score with 2 parallel slashes, giving the bread more of an oval shape. For a batard, score with 1 or 2 long cuts down the length of the dough.
Pop the lid back on the pot and close the oven door. Turn the oven to 220 degrees C or 200 degrees C fan-forced. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for a further 20-30 minutes with the lid off. I have experimented endlessly with this latter cooking time, and have come to the conclusion that 20 minutes gives a lighter brown loaf, softer in the middle, while 30 minutes gives a richer, browner loaf not quite as soft.
Remove the bread to a wire rack or board and leave to cool for an hour before cutting.
That’s it. I have tried to explain what works for me. There are infinite variations on the how-to of sourdough bread making. This is just one method. I can only encourage you to try this method, or any other, to discover the joys and pleasures and the huge satisfaction of turning flour and water into a magnificent loaf of bread.
I love having morning and afternoon teas. It’s a great way to catch up with friends and I like the fact that I can prepare everything in advance, from cakes to scones to sandwiches.
A big favourite is my Victoria Sponge. It’s a delicious cake, and filled with jam or cream, it’s so more-ish. The recipe is based on one from James and Tom Morton’s “Shetland, Cooking on the Edge of the World”.
James describes in vivid detail his grandmother’s recipe. It really is a tribute to her baking skills and to recipes handed down through the family.
Now Queen Victoria would not be at all amused, as I fill my sponge with cream. Sacrilege I know, but I love the ooze of softly whipped cream on top of jam in between those delicious sponge layers!
150g salted butter
150g caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 medium free-range eggs
150g self raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
Full fat milk, to loosen mixture
To fill and decorate
Strawberry or raspberry or mixed berry jam, homemade or store bought,
200 mls cream, whipped
Icing sugar or caster sugar, for the top of the cake
Fresh and crystallised rose petals
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C, 160 degrees C fan-forced. Grease 2 18cm (7 inch cake tins with butter, really really well.
Take a large piece baking or parchment paper, fold in half, and draw a circle around one of the tins. With the drawing as a guide, cut out 2 circles. Line the base of each cake tin with the paper circles.
Heat the butter in a microwave or in a saucepan on the stove top, to the point where half the butter is just melted, and the rest is soft. Put the butter, sugar, vanilla and eggs into a mixing bowl, or stand mixer with a whisk attachment, and whisk on medium speed until the mixture is very pale and thick, almost mousse like.
Sieve the flour and baking powder, and fold these in gently using a metal spoon, being careful not to overmix. When the mixture is nearly smooth, add a little milk, a dash at a time, to loosen the mixture “until it falls from the spoon in a swift wave”.
Spoon the mixture into the tins, gently smoothing flat. Put the cakes into the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, until golden brown on top and the cakes bounce back when gently pressed.
Take out of the oven, and cool in the tins for 10 minutes. Run a butter or palette knife around the edge of the tins to free the sides. Carefully turn the cakes onto a wire cooling rack. Peel off the baking/parchment paper. Leave to completely cool.
Place one cake, upside down on the plate or cake stand you intend to serve the cake on. Spread with the jam, and then spoon or pipe on the whipped cream. Place the other cake on top.
Dust with icing or caster sugar, sieved over the cake. I like to serve the cake with fresh and crystallised rose petals.
For the crystallised rose petals:
Take one lovely rose, hopefully growing in your garden, and gently wash and dry each petal. Lightly beat an egg white, with a few drops of rosewater, in a small shallow bowl. Dip each petal in the beaten egg white, shaking off any excess. Put 75g caster sugar on a large plate. Dip each petal in the caster sugar, again shaking off the excess. Place the petals on baking paper on a tray, to dry, in a warm place.
The petals are quite fragile, but will last a couple of days. They are very useful for decorating cakes, biscuits and tarts. And adding the rosewater intensifies the rose flavour!
This is a really simple way to make a “cheat’s” ice cream that is super refreshing, super simple and super good for you! It’s not new – everyone has been doing it, including Jamie Oliver in Jamie’s30 Minute Meals.
It’s less a recipe than a procedure. Really, it’s just frozen fruit blitzed with yoghurt with a little honey for sweetness, to make a kind of frozen delicacy with a lovely ice cream like texture.
I have listed what works well for me, but find your version by varying the fruit used and the ratio of frozen fruit to yoghurt. My chosen fruit was mango and mixed blueberries and raspberries.
A quantity of frozen fruit – mango, banana, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, papaya, peaches, nectarines, plums
Yoghurt – Greek yoghurt is nicest, but the recipe works well with low fat yoghurt too.
Mint leaves, fresh berries for decorating
To make ice cream for two, or one greedy person, put 3 handfuls of frozen fruit into the bowl of a food processor with 3 tablespoons of yoghurt. Add 1 tablespoon of runny honey, or less, if you want less sweetness.
Blitz in the food processor until you have a creamy frozen mixture. Add more fruit or more yoghurt if you are not satisfied with the consistency and then blitz again.
I don’t weigh my quantities – I really think you need to judge whether you have the ratio right by the look and texture of the resulting ice cream.
Serve immediately in glasses, bowls or cones. It will melt quite quickly so speed is of the essence. Chilling the glasses or bowls is a good idea too. You can freeze leftover ice cream, but in my experience it’s a little grainy. Just make enough to eat in one sitting!
A while back I discovered how easy it was to hot smoke salmon. I love cooking salmon – grilled or baked – and I love eating traditional smoked salmon, or cold smoked.
Hot smoking is kind of a cross between cooking and cold smoking. You apply smoke during the cooking process to give the salmon a lovely woody, smoked flavour.
I’ve posted a few hot smoking recipes before. Here’s the how-to of easy hot smoking and some of the recipes using hot smoked salmon.
How to hot smoke salmon:
All you need is an aluminium foil container, aluminium foil, a cake (wire) rack, some wood smoking chips, and a barbecue and you are right to go!
Ingredients A few sprigs of fresh rosemary and/or sage leaves
Salmon fillets, skin on
Sprinkle of sea salt
Sprinkle of sugar
1-2 teaspoons chili paste or sambal oelek (or leave out if you prefer)
Method Preheat your barbecue to high. You will need a large aluminum foil container, readily available at supermarkets. It should be big enough to hold the size of the fish fillets you are going to smoke. You will also need a wire rack, the kind for cooling cakes on, that will fit inside the container.
Line the base of the foil container with wood smoking chips. These chips (usually hickory) are available at barbecue supply stores or hardware stores. Scatter the rosemary and sage over the wood chips.
Place the wire rack inside the container, so it sits about halfway down.
Sprinkle the salmon fillets with salt and sugar and rub with the chilli paste and a drizzle of olive oil. Put the fillets skin side down on top of the wire rack.
Cover the container with a large piece of aluminium foil, that’s been doubled over. It should completely cover the container. Using a metal skewer, pierce holes in rows across this foil lid. This is to allow the smoke to escape.
Place the container on the barbecue, turn down to a medium heat and put the top of the barbecue down. If your barbecue doesn’t have a top, you may have to cook for a little longer, as cooking with the top down captures more heat.
Cook for 10 to 15 minutes – the time taken will depend on how well cooked you want your salmon and the presence/absence of a barbecue top. After a couple of minutes the container will start to smoke.
After the 10-15 minutes of cooking, turn the heat off and leave it to sit for 5 minutes before opening the container. This will allow the residual smoke to continue to penetrate the salmon.
You can always check the “doneness” of the salmon by cutting into it, but, like a barbecued steak you risk spoiling the look of it. However if you are serving to fussy eaters who like their fish cooked through, then it’s worth doing.
This is the basic method. You can serve the hot smoked salmon in a myriad of recipes – here a few pics and links to some recipes.
I’ve been experimenting with fish pies recently, with the memory of a great fish pie cooked for me by an Englishman who clearly knows his pies and his fish. Thank you Ken, for your inspiration!
My version is quite simple – smoked fish fillets and poached fresh fish, with some braised leeks, in a white sauce. Topped off with creamy mashed potato and a liberal scattering of grated cheddar. Great on the day, and even tastier reheated the next day, too, when the flavours have developed.
These quantities make a very substantial pie for two, or would serve four with smaller portions too. Double the quantities for a really big pie!
4 large potatoes, good for mashing
3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon butter
300 mls full fat milk
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
100g white fish
150g smoked mackerel
150g hot smoked salmon
1 tablespoon plain flour
75g cheddar cheese, grated
Wash the potatoes thoroughly and place whole into a large saucepan. Cover completely with water. Bring to the boil and cook on a medium heat until the potatoes are cooked through. Be careful not to overcook – you don’t want the potatoes breaking up. Remove from the heat and strain in a colander.
When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel quickly and place the still warm potatoes in a bowl.
Add 2 tablespoons butter and 50 mls of milk. Season with salt to taste. Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes really well with the butter and milk, making sure there are no lumps.You can of course adjust the butter and milk amounts to personal taste and because potatoes do vary, requiring more or less butter/milk to get the right consistency.
Cover the mashed potato bowl with aluminium foil to keep warm.
Wash the leeks well and slice into ½ cm rounds. Heat 1 teaspoon butter with the olive oil in a frying pan. Add the leeks and cook over a low heat until the leeks are soft, about 15-20 minutes. Just make sure temperature is low and the leeks don’t brown. Once cooked, remove from the heat.
Heat the remaining 250 mls milk in a wide saucepan until just at a simmer. Place the white fish fillet into the milk, and continue to simmer and let the fish cook for 5 to 8 minutes. Check if the fish fillet is cooked by putting a skewer into the thickest part of the fish. If the skewer goes in easily and is also easy to remove, it should be cooked.
Remove the fillet carefully with a slotted spoon. Roughly break into chunks. Strain the poaching milk into a bowl or jug.
There’s no need to cook the mackerel and salmon, just break into chunks.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
To make the white sauce, melt 1 tablespoon butter, over a low heat, in the saucepan in which you poached the fish. Add the plain flour, and mix together to a smooth paste, making sure to use a wooden spoon. Cook for a couple of minutes. Add the poaching milk, and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon, combining the paste with the milk. Turn the heat to medium, bring to the boil, then reduce to low and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the sauce is thickened, stirring regularly. Season generously with salt and cracked pepper.
To assemble the pie, place the leek slices and fish chunks in a baking dish. Gently stir through the white sauce. Top with the mashed potato, roughing up the potato with a fork for a little artistry. Scatter the grated cheddar over the pie.
Cook the fish pie in the preheated oven for a 20-30 minutes or until the potato is brown and the mixture underneath is bubbling.
Serve with a green salad and chunky sourdough, or just on its own. I had some beautiful young garlic from a spring harvest market, so I roasted those with the pie. Really delicious!